Thought for the day
It is often forgotten that Pentecost is first of all a Jewish feast, actually a harvest festival. That sense of “in gathering” is also a theme of our Christian Pentecost, as we see the beginning of the church. By the time of Jesus, Shavuot—to give it its Hebrew name—also marked the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai. This also fits our Christian Shavuot as long as we recall that Law, Torah, meant instruction and indeed a whole way of life under God’s grace and guidance. It was always interior and the descent of the Holy Spirit takes this inner reality to new levels.
Send, O Father, the Holy Spirit of your Son into our lives and communities. May the joy we know in the Spirit help us to be joyful bearers of the Good News to our contemporaries. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
John 15:26 [Jesus said:] “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf. 27 You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning.
John 16:12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you."
The ordinary reader will notice that this is not how Jesus speaks in the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke). The words used reflect the language of the community of the Fourth Gospel—often, it is true, echoing themes and even phrases from the other traditions, but absorbing them into its own worldview and spirituality. A few examples will suffice: Advocate, come from the Father, testify, from the beginning, Spirit of truth, glorify me and so on. Thus, our text reflects concerns and theology from the end of the first century. In deep discernment, the leader of the community “heard” what the Risen Lord was saying both to him and through him to the community at the time of writing. He placed this discernment on the lips of Jesus in the Gospel story. In other words, as so often in this Gospel, it is the Risen Lord who is speaking to us.
It may help to add this. The bible texts chosen for Ascension and Pentecost reflect a wider anxiety about and reflection on the transition from the experience of Jesus in his ministry to the time after the resurrection, the time of the Church. The question being asked is “How will Jesus be with us now?” In the “negotiation” of this transition, the New Testament writers acknowledge the discontinuity (Jesus is risen, no longer available in the same way) and at the same time they seek to discern the continuity, within the new. In the new situation of mission and church, the Lord is with his followers but in a totally different, deeper and richer way. In John’s Gospel, the Farewell Discourse in chapters 14-17 deals with this search the Lord’s being “with us”, but not as he was before.
Kind of writing
The common situation in farewell speeches is that of a prominent person who gathers his followers (children, disciples, or the entire nation of Israel) just before his death or departure to give them final instructions that will help them after he is gone. Our excerpts for Pentecost come from chapters 15 and 16. The common thread is the Advocate.
Old Testament background
Yes and no. Of course the Spirit was active in the time before Jesus (e.g. creation, prophecy, wisdom, prayer). Yet the task of the Spirit after the Paschal Mystery is so radically new—precisely the appropriation in the hearts and lives of believers of what God had achieved for humanity in the death and resurrection of Jesus—that we may say it is as if there had been no Spirit until now. The new role of the Spirit after the resurrection helps us to understand a puzzling passage in this Gospel,
“On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.’” Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified.” (John 7:37-39 NRSV adjusted)
New Testament foreground
The expression “advocate” for the Holy Spirit is unique to the Fourth Gospel .
“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.” (John 14:16) “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.” (John 14:26) “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf.” (John 15:26) “Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.” (John 16:7)
The Greek for “advocate” is paraclete. The word started out in a passive sense, “one who is called alongside [to someone’s aid],” and so was rendered in Latin as “advocatus.” In the NT it is used in an active sense (as is “advocate” in current English): “one who appears on another’s behalf,” “mediator,” “intercessor,” or “helper.” In 1 John 2:1, Jesus Christ is referred to as our paraclete who intercedes with (God) the Father on behalf of sinners. Some English versions paraphrase the word: “one to plead our cause” (NEB), “someone who pleads …on our behalf” (GNB), or “one who speaks in our defence” (NIV). In the Gospel of John (14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7), paraclete is identified with the Holy Spirit and is variously translated as the “Comforter” (KJV, ASV), “Counsellor” (RSV, NIV), “Advocate” (JB, NEB, NRSV), and “Helper” (GNB, NASB).
Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. (Galatians 5:16-25)
Verse 26 Quite early in this Gospel, the teaching emerges that certain aspects of the ministry and life of Jesus will be understood only afterwards (e.g. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this [John 2:22]). A chief function of the Holy Spirit will be to “remind” the disciples later, that is, to take to heart in the light of the resurrection. To testify—literally to give witness—here points to the inner encouragement of the Spirit in order that believers may be able to give costly witness.
Verse 27 The disciples can testify because of their experience (see 1 John 1:1-4). It is also a signal that the destiny of Jesus in death and resurrection cannot be separated from his ministry and proclamation.
Verse 12 This verse reflects the actual experience of the first Christians, who came to a radically new understanding of Jesus in the light of Easter. We all experience times when “we cannot bear them now” and come to insight only later.
Verse 13 Truth, in this Gospel, is relational and not merely informational. Jesus in his person is The Truth, that is, the faithful love of God. The Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus and this same Spirit will guide us into “all truth”, that is, into Jesus himself as the way, the truth and the life. The Gospel is teaching that our fidelity and faithfulness to our identity as disciples will also be a gift of the Spirit, a grace. The continued presence of the Spirit as the centuries unfold, with changes of cultures and contexts, is an essential part of who we are as a community of faith. It is, perhaps, a surprise to hear of “things yet to come” because there is so little tension towards the end of time in this Gospel. Yes, the same Gospel offers this surprise: Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. (John 14:12)
Verse 14 “Glorify” in this Gospel means to reveal the heart of God in Jesus’ lifting up. The Spirit will “glorify” by letting believers live from that astonishing love and reality. Glory in Greek points to appearance (doxa) while glory in Hebrew points to substance (kabod). “Glory” is a category of disclosure in this Gospel. This means that the Holy Spirit will continue to disclose.
Verse 15 In the language of the later creeds, the Trinity is involved in this taking to heart, because the Father’s initiative in Jesus is now a spiritual reality on account of the inner action of the Spirit. “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the parent (= God the Father) loves the child (= Jesus, the Son of God).” (1John 5:1) Elsewhere we read: So Jesus said, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will realise that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own, but I speak these things as the Father instructed me. (John 8:28)
Pointers for prayer
1. Jesus recognised that his disciples were not capable of taking in everything at once. Wisdom about life comes slowly and sometimes painfully. Hearing the ‘right’ answer at the ‘wrong’ time does not help us. We need to be ready and open to receiving the truth if it is to have any impact. Perhaps you can recall some occasions when it was the ‘right’ time for you to learn a truth about life. Remember your experiences of growing in understanding and truth.
2. Perhaps the Spirit guided you through the words of someone close to you, or through the words and actions of people you read about or saw on TV. Understanding may have come to you when you were praying or reflecting on your life. Remember and give thanks for the people who have helped you to greater wisdom in life.
3. Jesus said the Spirit would ‘glorify’ him by reminding the disciples of Jesus’ own teaching. To whom do you give glory by taking their wisdom and incorporating it in your life? Are there people who give you glory by using your wise advice in their lives?
4. Wisdom is handed on from person to person, and from generation to generation, within families, within communities, etc. Are there any particular gems of wisdom that you cherish from what has been handed on to you? What wisdom would you like most of all to pass on to those close to you?
Send down, O God, upon your people the flame of your Holy Spirit, and fill with the abundance of your sevenfold gift the Church you brought forth from your Son’s pierced side.
May your life-giving Spirit lend fire to our words and strength to our witness. Send us forth to the nations of the world to proclaim with boldness your wondrous work of raising Jesus from the dead. Amen.